How did you get where you are today?
By being a compulsive reader as a child, and becoming an anti-social book addict as an adult. I started out in publishing, but since I was doing a lot of freelance reviewing at the same time, the move into journalism after a few years was an obvious step.
What are your main tasks?
Opening hundreds of book parcels every week; deciding what to have reviewed and by whom; coaxing people into writing reviews; reminding them that their reviews are overdue; giving them new and more generous deadlines; commissioning interviews and other pieces; writing reviews, interviews and a weekly column myself; and proof-reading the books and arts pages in the weekend arts supplement.
What are the most important things to know in your job?
How to say no to importuning publishers, writers and would-be reviewers without offending them.
How important are your contacts?
Crucial. Without them the pages would be virtually blank, and I would have to generate all the ideas for them myself.
What’s your key to success?
What success? I wanted to be a vet. Since that didn’t work out, I suppose I have to give thanks to a Presbyterian work ethic.
What do you like and dislike about your job?
Getting my hands on books before they’re even published, and discovering good writers I’ve never heard of. I hate paper cuts from opening parcels and calls from publishers wanting to know if their books have arrived, if I’ve read them yet, and if I’m planning to review them. And the follow-up calls asking all the same things a week later.
What advice would you offer?
Always carry something good to read.